Mobility Tech Startup Kalogon Introduces Its All-New Connected Smart Cushion For Wheelchair Users

by Steven Aquino

In a press release published on Tuesday, Florida-based mobility startup Kalogon announced what it calls the “world’s first smart wheelchair cushion.”

Developed by ex-SpaceX engineers the aerospace company started by Elon Musk Kalogon describes the cushion as being designed to “assist in the healing and prevention of pressure ulcers or bedsores.” The company notes these injuries are the leading cause of preventable death for the more than 3 million Americans who use a wheelchair.

Kalogon’s claim to fame is the company’s engineers have developed wheelchair technologies that were endorsed by esteemed late physicist Stephen Hawking.

“For me, if Kalogon can solve major challenges that people in wheelchairs face in partnership with people of all abilities, then we are doing our job right from ideation to manufacturing and distribution,” said Kalogon founder and CEO Tim Balz in a recent interview with me conducted over email.

The Smart Cushion features pressure sensors that intelligently analyze pressure points in real time, then automatically redistribute weight to alleviate the chances of developing bedsores and the like. The Cushion is controlled though an app, which is available on iOS and Android, that allows users to adjust comfort levels (there are many presets) and customize the cushion to their liking for maximum comfort.

Balz describes himself as an engineer who likes to solve problems. After college, he went to work on what he called “broad human ambitions” at SpaceX before coming to the realization that he missed actually helping people. Balz’s passion for helping others didn’t just manifest after college; it was present during high school. He noticed a fellow student in a manual wheelchair pulling a recycle bin from classroom to classroom for pickup. What Balz did was something straight out of an episode of MTV’s Pimp My Ride. “One day, he was stuck because the recycling was too heavy. When I asked why he didn’t have an electric wheelchair, his teacher said his insurance denied it because he was capable of moving a short distance on his own,” Balz said. “I wanted to help, so I found a wheelchair I could repair on Craigslist and then tricked it out with a sound system, a hitch so he could pull the recycling, leg rests and more, so that it [the wheelchair] would be exactly what he needed and be as cool as he was.”

Following this experience, Balz would found a non-profit organization to build off the work of helping his classmate. He also would win an Intel Challenge Award for creating a connected wheelchair.

The development process for the Smart Cushion started auspiciously for Balz, as he already was readily familiar with the mobility market and the customers it serves. To build his team, Balz recruited “the most talented engineers I knew” and others committed to helping wheelchair users. They began by doing research at a local senior living facility to garner feedback from residents, and to understand the impact of pressure-induced injuries. The team discussed concept designs with local wheelchair users, caretakers, and clinicians; the eventual initial prototype of the Smart Cushion was the culmination of what Balz called a “week-long, round-the-clock sprint.”

The Smart Cushion is also notable for its manufacturing, as they’re built at a factory staffed by disabled workers. Kalogon partnered with Florida-based non-profit BAC to hire assembly technicians with disabilities to work on the cushion project. Balz explained disabled people have the highest rate of unemployment, and the Kalogon team questioned whether they might be able to do even more good for the world. He set up a meeting with BAC chief executive Amar Patel and quickly learned their values on this subject aligned perfectly; Balz described BAC as a “passionate and flexible partner with an eager and capable workforce.” The two companies worked closely during the production process, discussing challenges faced in manufacturing. The product was even redesigned to help make it more accessible for assemblers to build.

Feedback from early adopters on the Smart Cushion has been positive. Balz said customers are overjoyed a company is finally tackling pressure injuries from wheelchairs, and that the solution involves modern technology. The result is something far more dynamic and adaptable than the static, subpar products that Balz told me only somewhat address a person’s medical needs and are “designed once and don’t change much.” He added Kalogon stays in close contact with its customers, continually iterating on the cushion based on their feedback. One user, John Miller, has been a wheelchair user for 18 years and an early tester of the Smart Cushion. He was quoted in Kalogon’s press release as saying he’s “digging in his garden again” and able to visit his grandchildren for the first timeall thanks to the Smart Cushion.

As for the future, Balz said there are “a few very exciting developments in the pipeline” for the Smart Cushion. He described Kalogon as an “extremely talented and fast-moving” team that realizes there are myriad areas of unmet need where the company’s technology can make a positive impactlike in medical and commercial spaces.

“One thing I can [say] for certain is that we are not just a wheelchair cushion company,” Balz said.

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